Research & Access


Reading Room Access 2021-2022

Reading Room Access: Starting September 1, 2021, the reading room will be open Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm by appointment only to current Columbia students, faculty and staff whose individual research requires consulting RBML materials.

Reading room seats are limited due to COVID-19 density restrictions and appointments must be booked at least 5 business days in advance

We are unable to welcome alumni and other visitors to our reading room at this time. The Libraries are working with the University on a visitor policy with a goal of maintaining the safety of the Columbia community. Please check here for updates after visitor policies are finalized. 


The University Archives collections can be found by searching the libraries' catalogue CLIO. CLIO provides access to records of archival collections at Columbia University Libraries, including finding aids, collection descriptions and some of the available digital content.

The Collection Overview section of this site also provides description of the most highly accessed University Archives manuscript collections, how they are organized and for what topics you may find them useful. However, this is not a comprehensive listing of all of our collections. 

The Columbia History Resources section of this site includes selected University-related digitized materials. These pages offer links to digitized publications, online exhibitions, web archives, and other relevant resources.

The Columbiana Library is a large book collection consisting of university-related publications. Many of these titles can be found in CLIO, the Columbia Libraries online catalog. In addition to CLIO, there is a paper card catalog in the University Archives reading room that can be used to find these publications. The card catalog is also useful for finding specific articles from two major university publications: Columbia Alumni News and Columbia University Quarterly.

The Columbia University Archives staff has put together some Research Guides to help you take advantage of our holdings. For each type of search, you will find the most popular resources available and how to access them: some online and some in person. The lists are not exhaustive; these are only the "top" or "most frequently consulted" resources. The guides focus on alumni, faculty, course descriptions, Master's essays and dissertations, and buildings and grounds information.

If you need help in identifying what materials you need to learn more about the history of Columbia or to find information on a former Columbia student, faculty or staff member, please contact uarchives@columbia.edu.

How to Register

Because the University Archives materials are rare, unique, and usually irreplaceable, they are subject to a higher level of security than other library materials. University Archives collections do not circulate and can only be accessed in the RBML Reading Room.

Researchers are required to register their own Special Collections Research Account to request to see any materials in the RBML Reading Room.  You will need to provide a current address, email, telephone number, and other contact information. Upon your first visit, you will need validate your account in-person with government issued photo identification or Columbia ID and we will take your photo for security purposes.

 

How to Request Materials & Book Appointments

Once you have created your Special Collections Research Account, you will be able to request materials and book appointments.

Appointments must be made at least 5 business days in advance. Up to 5 collection items may be requested per appointment. 

Please be respectful of staff and other users and only make appointments you intend to keep. Seats are limited and we staff our reading room by appointment only. We reserve the right to cancel the remainder of your appointment if you are over 30 minutes late.

  • For collection items with individual CLIO catalog records, select Request: Special Collections on the right side of the catalog record. You will be prompted to log in to your Special Collections Research Account, associate your request with an Appointment, and Submit your request. Library staff will contact you to confirm your appointment and request(s).
  • For archival collections, search CLIO or the Archival Collections Portal to locate a link to the collection’s online finding aid. View the Container List for the collection and select specific boxes using the toggle boxes on the right. Press the Submit Request button highlighted in red at the top of the page. Follow the prompts to log in to your Special Collections Research Account. Your requests will appear in your Outstanding Requests list with the status Request Needs Appointment. Use the Edit button to associate the request with an Appointment and Submit your request. Library staff will contact you to confirm your appointment and request(s).

  • For archival collections with legacy PDF finding aids, search CLIO or the Archival Collections Portal to locate a link to the collection’s PDF finding aid. Review the finding aid and note the specific boxes you wish to consult. Select Request: Special Collections on the right side of the catalog record. You will be prompted to log in to your Special Collections Research Account. Add the Box Number to the request form (only one box number per form), associate your request with an Appointment, and Submit your request. If you wish to request additional boxes from the same collection, locate your first request in your Outstanding Requests list, choose Clone Request from the Actions menu and edit the Box Number in the form. Associate the request with an Appointment and Submit your request. Library staff will contact you to confirm your appointment and request(s).

 

Unprocessed Collections

As part of our commitment to intellectual accessibility, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) informs the public of the collections in our custody, even if they are not fully accessible to researchers, and make basic collection-level records available immediately upon accession. We make every effort to give our researchers access to the collections, whenever possible, by doing a quick assessment of what can be seen without processing. An unprocessed collection might be partially or fully closed for research if the materials in question are excessively fragile, impossible to locate due to lack of arrangement within the collection, or contain sensitive information.

Collections that are unprocessed have a restriction note in the library's catalogue CLIO that states,"Material is unprocessed. Please contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information." If the collection has been previously requested and evaluated for access by an archivist, the outcome of that review will be reflected there as well.

How do I request access to an unprocessed collection?
Please contact rbml@columbia.edu describing the unprocessed collection you wish to access. An archivist will review the request and will determine whether the material can be made available in the reading room. You should hear from us within two weeks.

After my request has been reviewed, do I need to make an appointment?
If the collection can be made available, we will ask you to confirm the date and time of your prospective visit before arriving. The materials will be ready for your viewing at that time.  

What should I expect when visiting RBML to use unprocessed archival materials?
If the collection can be made available, please confirm the date and time of your prospective visit with RBML staff before arriving; the materials will be ready for your viewing at that time. You may also want to keep in mind that the box numbers and other citation information for the documents in the collection are subject to change during processing.

Handling unprocessed archival materials in the reading room:

  • Because such collections are unprocessed and somewhat fragile, you will be seated at one of the five reading room tables closest to the manager's desk. This will allow the reading room manager to more easily assist you with any handling issues that may arise, and help to prevent damage to the materials.
  • Please be especially careful when handling materials from unprocessed collections. If you see something that you feel unsure about handling, either because of its condition or its format, do not hesitate to ask for assistance.
  • We require all researchers to use gloves when handling photographs that are not encased in polyester sleeves. Gloves are available in the reading room for researchers to use.
  • We cannot provide access to original time-based media material which has not first been reformatted for preservation. Researchers are welcome to examine archival time-based media items and decide whether they wish to place an order for audio/video reformatting. If copyright and/or condition restrictions apply, it may not be possible to digitize a requested item. Please note that A/V reformatting is handled by an outside vendor and typically takes 6 to 8 weeks.
  • As when handling any other archival collection, please remove only one folder from a box at a time, and keep all materials in the same order that you found them. An unprocessed collection may not be arranged in any way that makes particular sense, but maintaining it in its current order allows us to more easily ensure that all items are accounted for when the collection is processed.

If the item you wish to see does not have an online finding aid or catalog record, please contact rbml@columbia.edu for assistance.

How to Find the Reading Room

Butler Library, North Facade, undated. Butler Library, north facade, undated.

The University Archives is part of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) on the 6th floor of Butler Library. Butler Library is located on the south end of Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus. The back of the library faces 114th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. There is only one public entrance to Butler, from the campus side; there is no street entrance.

We are unable to welcome alumni and other visitors to the library at this time. The Libraries are working with the University on a visitor policy with a goal of maintaining the safety of the Columbia community. Please check here for updates after visitor policies are finalized. 

Starting September 1, 2021, the reading room will be open Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm by appointment only to current Columbia students, faculty and staff whose individual research requires consulting RBML materials.

Reading room seats are limited due to COVID-19 density restrictions and appointments must be booked at least 5 business days in advance

Let us know as soon as possible if you will be delayed for your appointment start time or need to cancel or reschedule: email rbml@columbia.edu or call 212-854-5590 during our open hours.

If you are feeling unwell, please stay home and contact us to reschedule your appointment for another time.

You will be required to wear a mask over your nose and mouth during your entire visit at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, and agree to abide by the commitments of the Columbia Community Health Compact.

When arriving for a reading room appointment: after entering Butler Library, follow the hallway to the left and take the East elevator or stairs to the 6th floor. The entrance to RBML is through the glass doors at the end of the hallway, to your right. Lockers for coats, jackets, bags, and other personal items are located just outside the entrance; keys are available at the RBML reference desk. Prior to entering the reading room, please wash your hands at one of the restrooms near the elevators.

How to Access Materials

Materials are accessed by appointment in a supervised reading room, an enclosed space where users work in close proximity with one another.

Appointments are for one individual. The reading room cannot accommodate pairs or groups.  

For the comfort of all and to ensure the security of our collections, users are required to follow these policies and procedures:

  • Wear a face covering over your nose and mouth at all times.

  • Keep at least six feet (two arms lengths) apart from other people whenever possible.

  • Wash your hands before entering the reading room. Restrooms are located in the East hallway, near the elevators.

  • Registration with valid photo identification (CUID) is required. Every user's photograph is also taken for security purposes.

  • Pencils, laptops, tablets and digital cameras are permitted. Note paper will be provided.

  • Personal belongings including outerwear, backpacks, purses, briefcases, computer cases/sleeves, camera bags, parcels, envelopes, and portfolio folders are not permitted at reading room tables. 

    • A locker and key will be provided for you to securely store your personal belongings.

  • Reading room temperatures are low to protect collection materials. Outerwear may not be worn but you may consider dressing in layers for comfort.

  • Food and beverages are not permitted.
  • Please mute electronic devices and keep conversations to a minimum.
  • Access may be limited under the following conditions: when papers are being processed; a result of donor-imposed restrictions; or when their physical condition warrants restricted use. In cases of collections in process, staff will work with you to facilitate access wherever possible.

  • The RBML cannot provide access to original time-based media material which has not been first been reformatted for preservation. Researchers are welcome to examine archival time-based media items and decide whether they wish to place an order for Audio/Video reformatting.

  • All materials must be returned to the reading room manager before leaving the reading room. Arrangements for future use may be made at this time.

  • Any personal materials, including laptops, which were brought into the reading room will be inspected by a staff member before you leave.

  • We reserve the right to search any notes or personal belongings at any time.

     

How to Use Materials

RBML Reading Room Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) reading room.
Use of Materials:
  • When you enter the Reading Room, check in with the Reading Room manager and indicate which of your requested item(s) you would like to see first. Please maintain a safe distance from staff and other users and follow the Reading Room manager’s instructions at all times.

  • When using archival and manuscript material, please handle materials carefully. Remove only one folder at a time, keep all archival materials in their original order and place all materials flat on the table.

  • When using books or bound volumes, cradles and book weights will be provided for you.

  • Gloves are required when handling photographs, film, slides, or metal objects.

  • When your appointment is finished, check out with the Reading Room manager and follow their instructions. 

Photography in the Reading Room:

Please plan to utilize your appointment time efficiently. We highly recommend using a camera, phone or tablet to capture reference images that can be studied more closely outside the library. Non-flash photography is allowed for personal research purposes, within the limits of U.S. copyright law and provided it will not damage collection materials.

  • Tripods, flash, and additional lighting is not permitted.

  • Silence your camera, phone, and all other electronic devices

  • Personal copiers and scanners are not permitted.

For more information on handling materials in the reading room, please consult the RBML's brief instructional videos.